European Foundation of Human Rights (EFHR) delivered a few notices and suggestions to the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) regarding their project, which takes notice of redefining new boundaries of Seimas’ single-member constituencies.
Firstly, EFHR would like to note that boundaries of the constituencies set a year ago by the CEC, affected electorate of minorities in a negative way and caused a big apprehension within the society (http://en.efhr.eu/2012/08/14/european-foundation-of-human-rights-support-the-decision-of-osce/#more). Two constituencies, dominated by Poles (Suzonys and Skirlenai), were incorporated into the ‘‘Lithuanian’’ Svencionys-Moletai constituency. In that way, during the contemporary elections to Seimas, voters’ chances to vote for their representatives were restricted.
In September, 2013, the CEC proposed a new project, regarding readjustment of new boundaries of the constituencies, for the public consideration. The action group of CEC justifies the need to redefine the boundaries of Seimas’ single-member constituencies, because according to the regulations of the Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters (henceforth – the Code of Good Practice), prepared by the European Commission ‘‘Democracy through Law’’ (Venice Commission), the fluctuation in the number of voters in the separate constituencies must range from 0.9 to 1.1 from an average number of voters, which, in line with Lithuanian demographics, estimates approximately to 35.000 voters per constituency. However, currently there are constituencies where this number exceeds the limits or falls behind.
EFHR holds its opinion that the solution to separate Vilnius and Salcininkai electorates, suggested by the action group, will not resolve current problems, on the contrary, will only escalate them. What it is more, the proposed variant is extremely elaborate and puzzled, does not agree with the peremptory norms of law acts and with the embedded principles and aims of the Code of Good Practice, and aggravates the proper implementation of people’s voting right.
In line with the Code of Good Practice ‘‘in the areas, where constituency boundaries are redefined, actions must be done without detriment to national minorities and all the actions related with the redefinition of the boundaries must be co-ordinated with the representatives of national minorities at all times.’’ It must be noted that Vilnius and Salcininkai districts are densely populated by national minorities (in the Salcininkai district national minorities amount for 89%, whereas in the Vilnius district they total 75%).
EFHR notices, that while working on a new project to redefine boundaries of the constituencies, CEC ignored political, national and other criteria which are essential to set new boundaries. Taking into consideration, that there are approximately 31 000 citizens of Lithuanian Republic residing in the Salcininkai area and approximately 75 000 citizens in the Vilnius area, all of them having the voting right, and in accordance with the range of an average number of voters embedded in the Code of Good Practice, which estimates for approximately 35 000 people per constituency, it can be stated that Vilnius district can have two constituencies, whereas Salcininkai district – one constituency, if 4 000 voters reserve from Vilnius district is incorporated in Salcininkai area (due to these two districts are neighbouring, constituencies would have a common boundaries). This would ensure that the regulations for the average number of voters in the single-member constituencies, as well as, the instructions not to impair national minorities, embedded in the Code of Good Practice, are implemented. What is more, this would create favourable conditions for voters to elect their representatives, who would properly represent their interests.
On 17th of February, 2000, Seimas ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities by the European Council, which proposes, that the Parties do not initiate any actions which could alter the proportions of the population in areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities and which could restrict the rights and freedoms flowing from the fundamental principles of the framework Convention (Article 16). The commentary of the above-mentioned article explains that it seeks to protect persons belonging to national minority from measures which would shift population ratio in the areas they live in and would restrict their rights and freedoms embedded in the Convention (including the voting right). These norms are peremptory, therefore, the action group of CEC cannot ignore them.
On purpose to correspond between the fluctuation in the number of voters in constituencies and the norms embedded in the Code of Good Practice, to enshrine other regulations and fundamental principles, and not to violate the regulations of peremptory law acts, EFHR suggests to establish two separate constituencies in Vilnius district and one constituency in Salcininkai district.
Other constituencies should be established in accordance with the aims embedded in the Code of Good Practice and in line with situation in practice – areas, too small to form a constituency, should be unified, due to common boundaries of electoral districts. What is more, the issue of establishing Vilnius and Salcininkai constituencies must be co-ordinated with the representatives of national minorities, because these areas are densely inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities (they make up more than a half of all residents in these territories).
Translated by Viktorija Stalmačenkaitė within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu